I'd like to nominate an unconventional candidate for 2011 Fantasy MVP.
No, it's not Aaron Rodgers, who has been consistently outstanding all season.
It's not LeSean McCoy, who tops the running back rankings with 1,482 total yards and 17 touchdowns - five more than his nearest competitor.
Nor is it Wes Welker, who leads all receivers with 100 receptions and 1,339 yards, plus nine TDs.
Rather, my choice is Welker's teammate, Rob Gronkowski - the most lethal tight end in the business.
Here is my hypothesis, which I challenge anyone to disprove: While he isn't the highest-scoring player in the game, Gronkowski is the most common denominator among this year's fantasy playoff teams.
A blatantly unscientific survey from my four leagues found that Gronkowski is owned by two top-seeded teams with first-round byes and two other teams that won their Week 14 matchups thanks largely to his most recent MVP-caliber performance. I'm willing to bet one of these scenarios played out in your league, as well.
The reason is that Gronkowski, down the home stretch in particular, has consistently given his owners a decisive advantage in the tight end slot. Jimmy Graham is his next-closest competitor; but Gronkowski has nearly doubled the Saint's touchdown receptions for the season (15 vs. 8), including a ridiculous 10 to three advantage over the last six weeks alone.
Think you can compete against Gronkowski with Jason Witten, Tony Gonzalez or Antonio Gates? You can try; but over the last half dozen games, Gronkowski has averaged eight to 13 points more per game than each of those players, including Graham. The differential skyrockets against second-tier tight ends.
Rodgers, McCoy, Welker and other fantasy studs have been extraordinary all season. But in any given week, each can be out-gunned by multiple players at their position. Those of us with the foresight, or dumb luck, to have selected Gronkowski in the 10th round or later of our preseason draft rarely have had to overcome a deficit.
In fact, we appreciate you spotting us a touchdown or two each week.
Now that the fantasy postseason is upon us, your starting roster should be fairly settled. But a little tweaking here or there, if only to keep your competition from improving, might still be in order. Here's a look at a couple of players that could help in the final weeks, and a couple that won't.
Felix Jones, RB, Cowboys. Jones was released in many leagues after DeMarco Murray emerged as the workhorse of the Dallas offense. It's time to scoop him back up now that the rookie sensation has presumably been lost for the season with a broken ankle. Jones put up 137 combined yards against the defensively challenged Giants on Sunday night. Next up: Tampa Bay, which just surrendered four TDs to Maurice Jones-Drew.
Donald Driver, WR, Packers. What a difference a week makes. Whereas I couldn't endorse him after his stellar Week 13 performance, Driver now becomes a hot commodity while Greg Jennings recovers from his poorly timed knee injury. James Jones and Randall Cobb are also considerations; but Driver has been targeted more frequently than those two, and he's done more with his opportunities lately.
Jake Locker, QB, Titans. If Matt Hasselbeck (calf) is sidelined next week, Locker will draw a delicious matchup against the woeful Colts. Don't take the bait. Despite his fine relief performance against the Saints on Sunday, Locker is simply too inexperienced to trust with a title-game berth on the line. It's a much safer bet that Chris Johnson will lead the Titans to their inevitable victory.
Chris Ivory, RB, Saints. He was a valuable late-season addition in his rookie campaign last year, but don't expect similar results now. Ivory must compete for touches with both Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas; and he'll be inactive again once Mark Ingram (turf toe) returns to action, possibly as early as this weekend. While he'll do no harm on your bench, Ivory won't be start-worthy for most contending teams.